If you commute in the early mornings or late evenings by bike, or love trail riding after dark, you’ve probably found yourself shopping for a set of lights at some point in time. With terms like burn time, lumens, and lithium-ion technology and usually a hefty price tag, finding the right lights for your purpose can become very daunting.
As an avid nightrider that rides in all weather conditions 12 months of the year, I have learned a thing or two about lights and can offer some sound advice for when you find yourself shopping for your next set.
Lights fall into two main categories, the first is the need to be seen safety category. This category is most common with commuters who are in a city environment with streetlights and other light sources lighting the way for them. The intent for them is to be seen by others. Lights for a commuter might need a few key functions like a flash mode, available in front and rear specific, need to be inexpensive, or possibly USB chargeable for workstation charging. Commuter lights are usually 100-700 lumens in brightness, come in a variety of battery configurations, and are fairly inexpensive.
The second category of bike lights is the need to see everything on the trail category. This category has a wide range of needs from racing at night, bike packing trips, or shredding the local single track on a group ride. Lights in this category are powerful, to say the least, and usually offer battery life and run time that is between 1.5-4 hours in duration. With the innovation in lithium-ion battery technology, batteries in this category are lighter and last longer than ever. Still, most trail lights have various settings for battery conservation as most riders will only need a low setting for slower up hill climbing and higher settings for descending when speeds are getting higher. Brighter lights and the more lumens make it harder to out run your lights while on faster sections of trail. Higher-end trail lights usually come with a few extras for versatility like both handlebar and helmet mounts or even a headband-style mount for running, cross country-skiing, hiking, camping, or even dog walking. Most higher-end lights come with a wall charger, case for your storage, are more weather resistant, and typically come with an extended warranty.
Here are a few of my favorite lights and a few key features of each:
|Ion 800||Lezyne Super Drive XXL||NiteRider Pro 1800 Race||Olympia 2100|
|Rider: Commuter / Bike Path||Rider: Commuter / Basic Trails||Rider: Racer / Trail Shredder||Rider: Trail Shredder / Bike packer|
|Lumens: 800||Lumens: 1200||Lumens: 1800||Lumens: 2100|
|Burn time: 1.5-20hrs||Burn time: 1.5-34hrs||Burn time: 1.5-25hrs||Burn time: 2.5-6.5hrs|
|Mounts: Bar or Helmet||Mounts: Bar / Helmet (Heavy for helmet mount not recommended)||Mounts: Bar / Helmet / Head Band||Mounts: Bar / Helmet / Headband / Wireless Remote control|
|Retail: $135||Retail: $219||Retail: $499||Retail: $399|
If the sticker price of these units alarms you, most of the cost is associated with the battery quality and all the research and development that goes into the durability and life span of the units. Personally, I have lights that are seven years old that still hold a charge and burn time like they were brand new. As the old saying goes, you really do get what you pay for.